Stop me if you have heard this one before. Nebraska is going up against an opponent with a stingy defense and struggling offense. This is a big game in the West division vs an opponent that has had Nebraska's number the past couple years. This week we meet the Minnesota Golden Gophers, one of the more solidly-coached teams in the Big Ten and a hard-hitting, physical team (not a great recipe given our current injury woes).
Will the broken chair trophy show up?
I really hope so. The trophy started as a Twitter joke between the Minnesota mascot, Goldy Gopher and the @FauxPelini character. The chair sported a fake $5 bill with Faux Pelini's avatar (Photoshop of Bo Pelini in a Christmas sweater holding a cat) but even with Nebraska's coaching change, I say we just rip that off and keep the rest. If you are on Twitter, let Goldy know you want him to bring the trophy! @GoldytheGopher
Will the offense find their groove again?
Right now the weather forecast is calling for 50-ish degrees, sunny, and very little wind. Perfect weather to pass the ball. The biggest problem I see is that the past two weeks appear to have broken Tommy. He does not seem to trust anything will get to where it is going and it is showing in his body language and mechanics. It does not help that, even with injuries, the pass defense is the stronger part of the Gopher D (which is pretty good and very physical all around).
There should be room to run against the Gophers, but given that the Huskers have not established a strong identity here (outside of the occasional "Release the Janovich" play) we might not take advantage. Having a starting offensive lineman (Gates) out (and possibly two if Chongo is also out) will not help here either and make the right side of the line vulnerable.
Will the feature matchup be the Husker rush defense vs the Gopher rush offense?
There are injured Huskers all over the defensive depth chart but they might be meeting an offense even more ravaged by the injury bug.
The Gophers are very much a run-first team, but currently rank 62nd in the country (the Husker rush offense is 45th) and are averaging 4.3 yards per carry. The Husker rush defense is allowing only 95 yards on the ground per game (good for 8th in the country). The Huskers have faced 172 rush attempts by opponents this season. I wondered if they simply faced fewer attempts because of the poor pass defense, but other teams in the top 15 rush defense have faced between 148 and 195 rushes. The numbers seem in line there. The Blackshirts are allowing 3.3 yards per carry -- which is more than all but two teams in the top 15 are allowing, but still pretty much in line.
We all know about the Husker pass defense which is 127th in the country and allowing 348 yards/game. They have faced 270 pass attempts (only Oregon has faced more pass attempts this season).
The problem for Minnesota is that they do not have a consistent passer (Leidner) and very many healthy bodies to catch the ball if he does throw it. They are 105th in the country in pass offense. They are averaging 31 attempts (I was surprised too) for 177 yards per game and a 56% completion rate. If you do the math, you can see that the Gophers average around 5.6 yards per completion (the Huskers, with their poor passing offense the past two weeks are still averaging over 7 yards/completion).
Even with the Husker pass defense in shambles, I still expect to see Jerry Kill try hard to establish the run to wear down a depleted and injured Husker defense and to use the short passing game to try and get around the stout interior line, especially if they are leading or this game stays close. The Gophers would be crazy to not at least try a few downfield shots against a pass defense that gives up more big plays than anyone else, but it does not seem to be enough a part of their DNA to game plan around it. If the Husker offense does manage to build up a lead and the Gophers have to pass to get back into the game -- I would be afraid. Very, very afraid.
Bonus Question: Will we see Jordan Stevenson on an offensive snap?
My guess is no, but I would not be surprised to hear about him taking a few reps in practice next week.
Predictions - Tell me if you take the under or over in the comments!
# of fullback run plays called by Langsdorf - 2.5
Mitch Leidner passing yards - (he is averaging 168/game) - 225 yards
Longest pass play given up by the Husker secondary - 30 yards
What are your questions? Did I miss something? Did you have different questions? Tell me in the comments!